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Hollywood backs McCain, even as he denounces it

By SARA FRITZ

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2000


LOS ANGELES -- Whenever Sen. John McCain condemns the entertainment industry for offering American children a steady diet of "gratuitous violence, pornography and filth," you have to wonder why so many of Hollywood's rich and famous are contributing money to his presidential campaign.

The short answer to that question, according to David Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, is that the men and woman responsible for the nation's movies and television programming have grown accustomed to being attacked by politicians, even the ones they support.

"You could ask that same question about Bill Clinton and Al Gore, who are supposed to be our friends and who have been leading the charge against us," Horowitz said. "The people in the entertainment industry have a way of giving latitude to the politicians they like."

Still, Horowitz confesses he is surprised that McCain has become a darling of the Hollywood set, which is traditionally dominated by liberal Democrats.

"I consider John McCain to be a hard-line conservative; I always regarded him as part of the right wing of the party," said Horowitz, one of those rare Republicans in the entertainment community. "It never occurred to me that they would fall in love with him."

Hollywood's financial support for McCain demonstrates one of the truisms of the campaign finance system, which he wants to abolish. It shows that contributors will give money to a politician with whom they disagree if they think he has even a remote chance of winning.

McCain's new popularity with the Hollywood set became apparent recently when he held a $1,000-a-head fundraiser in Beverly Hills and attracted an adoring crowd of movie stars and industry executives -- both Democrats and Republicans.

It also was reflected in the reports he submitted to the Federal Election Commission, which show that he has received $47,750 from the executives of Viacom Inc. and $22,625 from those of Time Warner, as of Dec. 31.

McCain's list of Hollywood contributors includes actors Harrison Ford and Tom Selleck; studio executives David Geffen of Dreamworks SKG, Ron Meyer of Universal, Sumner Redstone of Viacom, John Goldwyn and Kerry McCluggage of Paramount and Alan Horn of Warner Bros.; directors Milos Forman, Sydney Pollack and William Friedkin; producers Richard Zanuck and Norman Lear; songwriter Burt Bacharach; and music executives Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic and Berry Gordy of Motown.

Some of these donors have given to other candidates as well.

It is impossible to know the sum total of the money McCain has raised from the entertainment industry since his campaign soared after the New Hampshire primary in early February. No contribution reports have been filed with the FEC recently. Before Dec. 31, McCain had been running behind Gore, Bush and former Sen. Bill Bradley in entertainment industry contributions.

According to Horowitz, a Bush supporter, many entertainment industry people are being drawn to McCain because the story of his years of captivity as a prisoner of war in Vietnam has the larger-than-life quality of a movie script. In fact, Barry Diller and USA Films recently paid $100,000 for the movie rights to McCain's bestselling memoir, Faith of My Fathers.

Horowitz added that many prominent Hollywood stars have recently grown weary of being asked to contribute to political campaigns and thus they also support McCain because he advocates campaign finance reform.

Singer Barbra Streisand, for example, has disbanded her well-heeled organization of Hollywood women interested in contributing to campaigns because -- as Horowitz explains it -- "she got fed up raising all that money for politicians who went their own way" on issues of importance to the entertainment industry.

Although McCain's recent criticism of religious conservative leaders such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell was applauded in Hollywood, the attacks began a week ago -- long after McCain began receiving increased entertainment industry donations.

Before the primary election season, many people in the entertainment industry who now support McCain saw him as the enemy because of his advocacy of the V-chip and the TV ratings system. Clinton and Gore also spoke out in favor of the V-chip.

On the stump, McCain has continued to attack the industry by blaming movies and television for inciting children to violence. McCain often says that he and his wife, Cindy, made a New Year's resolution that they would monitor what their children are watching on television.

Horowitz suggested that some of McCain's financial backers in Hollywood may be motivated by a desire to change his mind on the V-chip as well as to persuade him to support the entertainment industry on other issues that come before Congress.

If McCain loses the presidency, he will return to his position as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over legislation that affects the entertainment industry.

"Everybody feels that if they fund his campaign, they get influence," said Horowitz. "Whether they do get influence or not is another question that I can't answer."


-- Staff writer Vanita Gowda contributed to this report.

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